The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song # 4/250: Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane

Fifty-five years ago, my mother and father decided to take me on a trip across Canada. We started out in Sydney, Nova Scotia, by train. My folks even put our car on the train! I can’t imagine how much that cost but the car and the three of us spent the next ten days traversing this great country of ours by rail. I can’t remember much about that trip but there is one exception…the Rocky Mountains. The train we were on allowed passengers to stand on an open-air platform at the back of the last car. I can clearly remember being in awe of the height of the Rockies, how crisp the mountain air was and at how snow-capped these mountains were. I, also, remember periods of blackness whenever we would travel through a tunnel. Going by train through the Rocky Mountains served as a clear reminder as to what an extraordinary feat of engineering the railway was that united the land we call Canada. I am grateful to the sacrifices of those who endured hardship in the building of it. ***For the sake of brevity, I also acknowledge the damage that the building of the railway did to the Indigenous Peoples of this land but will save further discussion on this topic for another post.

When we arrived in Vancouver, our car was unloaded and waiting for us when we got off of the train. We spent a couple of days there. Vancouver is truly one of the most scenic major cities in the world…with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east. I haven’t been back to Vancouver since I was a child, but I do recall Stanley Park being a wonderful spot. As we began our drive back to Nova Scotia, we started up along the coast. It was there that I saw towering totem poles and forests thick with huge trees as far as the eye could see. Going over the Rockies might have been hard on the car engine, but from the back seat, unbelted, I had a panoramic view of the majesty of those mountains. We stopped several times at look-out points. I still feel small and insignificant when I think about those times. Everything that people say about the prairies is true to a point…all I remember was how boring the scenery suddenly became. It was hour upon hour of wheat fields…flat, flat wheat fields. The only break in the tedium of that drive was at the very beginning when we spent a day in Lake Louise, which is absolutely gorgeous. Somewhere in the many boxes of slides that I hope my mother still has possession of, is a photo of me at The Big Nickel in Sudbury, Ontario, as well as at Niagara Falls and Parliament Hill in Ottawa. All in all, we drove back across Canada over the course of twelve days. What an epic journey! Looking at the logistics of such a trip through my adult eyes, I am not sure if it was foolish of my father to have attempted it in such a short time frame, or instead if it was a Herculean feat for the ages! Regardless, I can truly stake my claim as someone who has traveled across this beautiful country, even if I was only three years old at the time.

Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane is one of Canada’s most iconic songs, and Tom Cochrane one of our most successful and respected singers. From the mid-1970s, when he was the lead singer of a band known as Red Rider, through the 1980s, when the band became Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, and into the 1990s, when he performed as himself, Tom Cochrane has been involved in writing and singing some of the most well-known songs in Canada’s musical canon. HIs hits include songs such as Lunatic Fringe, White Hot, Big Leagues, No Regrets, Mad Mad World, I Wish You Well and his biggest hit, Life is a Highway. Tom Cochrane is an officer of the Order of Canada, the winner of over a dozen Juno Music Awards, and has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, as well as given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. As grand as those accomplishments may sound, to Tom Cochrane, his greatest accomplishments have come via his philanthropic and charity work. He is involved in many organizations that work to preserve our environment, but he devotes most of his time and energy into helping children in impoverished areas of our world. In fact, it was as a result of his first trip to Africa (on behalf of the World Vision Canada organization) that Tom came to be inspired to write Life is a Highway.

Cochrane in Africa on behalf of World Vision Canada.

Cochrane says that going to Africa for that very first time in the early 1980s opened his eyes to how privileged his own life had been as compared to how so many other human beings were living in abject poverty. Seeing the distended bellies of tiny African children caused Cochrane to re-evaluate his priorities in life. This reassessment of his purpose in this world became an integral part of his personal journey. As Cochrane reflected on the manner in which his life was transforming before his very eyes, he took pen to paper and wrote Life is a Highway. The use of a highway as a metaphor for a personal journey of discovery is nothing new in the world of literature, but in Tom Cochrane’s capable musical hands, he was able to create an iconic rock song that, at once, spoke to the massive breadth and width of our country, while still touching on the soul-inspiring nature of how one’s life can change when you travel: seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures along the way.

To this day, Tom Cochrane continues to devote a significant portion of his time and energy toward humanitarian relief efforts around the world. But, to hear him talk about it, he doesn’t want any attention or pats on the back. Instead, he hopes that the example he is setting will inspire others to adopt a more charitable and compassionate outlook towards those in need, wherever they may be found. So, when you watch the video for Life is a Highway, you won’t see much, if anything, about poverty and hunger. Instead, you will see Canada. Canada has a long and proud tradition of helping those in need around the world. So, Cochrane’s video was shot in such a way that it helps to create feelings of pride in the beauty of our land, and, by extension, in being Canadians. Most of the video was filmed in and around the Badlands of Alberta.

In life, it is easy to be comfortable. Always living where you live and never straying too far from the safety of your home base is an easy and familiar way to go through life. But, many riches await those who travel. There are so many parts of our own country, as well as other countries around the world, that are just so interesting and inviting. As I have written in previous posts, leaving my Cape Breton childhood home and coming to Toronto as a teenager changed my life. I am so much richer for having experienced the diversity that a city like Toronto holds. For those who have traveled internationally, the history and culture and traditions of those countries adds to the fabric of our souls, and I feel makes us better as citizens of an interconnected world. Seeing how other people live their lives can inspire us to live our own lives differently. In the case of Tom Cochrane, that experience tugged at his heart strings and made him a more compassionate man. Whatever the case, life is indeed a highway, so let’s all get out there and ride it all night long.

The link to the video for the song Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane can be found here.

The link to the official website for Tom Cochrane can be found here.

The link to the official website for the humanitarian charity World Vision Canada can be found here.

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